Super fragrant, tangy and comforting, Lanzhou beef noodle soup is a culinary legend from the city which it’s named after. Check out this simplified version!
If you’re a noodle fanatic like me, don’t miss today’s recipe: Lanzhou beef noodle soup (兰州牛肉面), aka Lanzhou La Mian(兰州拉面). Super aromatic, tangy and comforting, it’s one of the most popular noodle dishes in China. Named after the city from which it originates, this famous beef noodle dish is synonymous with Lanzhou and one of the most important elements of the local food culture.
My personal memory
I spent all my teenage years in Lanzhou (兰州), the capital of Gansu province in the Northwest of China, and Lanzhou beef noodle soup was a regular breakfast treat. In a small cafe beside my school, hundreds of bowls of beef noodle soup were freshly made each morning by a skillful team in a tiny kitchen.
Although the queue was long, the service was always super fast and the taste was always spot on. To me, it’s what I miss the most after moving from Lanzhou. Every time I go back, I take every opportunity to enjoy this humble yet scrumptious delicacy.
Six essential elements
A nice bowl of Lanzhou beef noodle soup consists of six essential elements:
- Clear, aromatic beef broth;
- Cubes/slices of cooked beef;
- Melt-in-your-mouth daikon slices (aka mooli/Chinese white radish) ;
- Elastic hand-pulled noodles;
- Generous amount of chilli oil;
- Fresh coriander or green garlic to garnish
A culinary art of noodle making
Strictly speaking, Lanzhou beef noodle soup is not supposed to be homemade. Or, let me put it another way. It’s almost impossible to imitate it, particularly the rich, aged beef broth (Restaurants claim they have secret ingredients, formulas, etc.) and the sophisticated hand-pulled noodles (it can come in 7-9 different sizes).
That is why I’ll never dare to claim that I make authentic Lanzhou beef noodle soup. What I’m sharing today is a simplified version that can be easily made in your own kitchen.
An easy way to make hand-pulled noodles
- Make a smooth, fairly firm dough using flour, salt & water.
- Divide then flatten the dough. Coat with oil then leave to rest.
- Bring a pot of water to boil. Cut the dough pieces into strips.
- Pull the strips into long noodles one at a time. Drop into the water.
- Cook for 1-2 minutes then dish out.
To make 2 servings, for example, you would need:
- 250 g all-purpose flour
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 125 ml water (you may need to adjust depending on the brand of your flour)
- cooking oil, for coating the dough
Have a look at the tutorial video below if you are keen to sharpen your culinary skills.
Please feel free to use shop-bought dried noodles if you wish. They are so handy when you are in a rush.
How to make a delicious broth
For better flavour and texture, I recommend you choose the beef cuts which have generous amounts of marbling and/or a high amount of connective tissue. Beef shank/shin, for example, is a good choice for this dish. Apart from that, I also add some beef bones. They provide extra flavour and a nice amount of fat to the broth.
In my recipe at the end of the post, you will see a long list of spices used to flavour the beef broth. Find as many as you can. Believe me, they do make a difference!
Make your own Chinese chilli oil
To me, Chinese chilli oil is indispensable for Lanzhou beef noodle soup. It gives the dish an extra zing, as well as a more appetizing look. I highly recommend you make your own when possible. You can find detailed instructions and a tutorial video in my chilli oil post.
Some people also like to add some Chinese black rice vinegar to the dish, have a try to see if it’s your cup of tea (not mine to be honest).
Lanzhou beef noodle soup (兰州牛肉面)
- 1400 g large chunks of beef, 3lb
- 2 beef bones
- 3000 ml water, 13 cups
- 1.5 tsp salt, or to taste
Spices & herbs
- 2 star anises
- 1 small piece cassia cinnamon
- 2 bay leaf
- 1 tsp Sichuan peppercorn
- 1 tsp white pepper
- 1 pinch fennel seeds
- 1 pinch cumin seeds
- 1/2 tsp ground licorice, or 4 slices licorice root
- 2 pieces sand ginger
- 3 dry chilli
- 1 piece ginger
- 3 stalks scallions
- Put beef chunks and beef bones into a pot filled with cold water. Bring the water to a full boil. Use a spoon to skim off the froth on the surface.
- Add all the herbs and spices (see note 1). Leave to simmer for about 2 hours (until the beef is cooked through).
- Take the beef out to cool and discard the bones, herbs and spices. When cold, cut the beef into either thin slices or small cubes(see note 2).
- Cut daikon into thin slices. Put into the beef broth. Cook for 15 minutes or so until very soft to bite.
- Cook noodles (see note 3) in another pot with plenty of water. Drain and rinse under cold water for a few seconds.
- Place noodles in serving bowls. Pour in hot broth and daikon. Top with beef slices / cubes. Garnish with fresh coriander and homemade chilli oil.
Writing this post has made me very homesick. Fortunately, during my Culinary Tours of China, I travel with my tour members to Lanzhou and we have a private audience to view the making of Lanzhou beef noodles, and a chance to practice noodle pulling guided by professional chefs. Really looking forward to my next tour!